Manchester City and Liverpool are set to slug it out yet again in another fascinating heavyweight encounter at the summit of the Premier League, but the free-for-all for survival at the bottom of the table will every bit as enthralling.
Before the season commenced, many tipped newly promoted Norwich City and Sheffield United to be sent straight back down to the Championship.
Others believed Newcastle United’s appointment of Steve Bruce would be the catalyst for their demise, or that Aston Villa’s summer recruitment policy was all too similar to that of relegated Fulham last season.
The opening games of the season have all but proved those doubters wrong though, and blown the race for survival wide open – it would take a brave man to place a big-money bet any club to be relegated this season.
Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United have had perhaps the most unanticipated start of any Premier League this season.
The South Yorkshire club ended game week four inside the top ten – something even the most avid Blades fan could’ve only dreamt of before the season began.
Wilder’s summer signings were almost exclusively players from the Championship and below, begging the question of whether his squad would have the quality to compete in the Premier League.
But the fluid attacking football Wilder instilled last season has been seamlessly transferred to the Premier League, with United yet to draw a blank in front of goal so far.
They showed their grit and determination with an 88th-minute equaliser against Bournemouth on the opening day, and showed they wouldn’t roll over against the big teams as they battled back from 2-0 down against Chelsea on Saturday.
If they continue to score goals and pick up points, they may avoid the relegation scrap altogether come the end of the season.
Last season’s Championship winners Norwich City returned to the top flight of English football after three years, and their young squad have also shown a commendable intent to play attractive football.
Daniel Farke’s side were picked apart by Liverpool in a harsh welcome to the league on the opening day, but since then they have shown they have the ability to score goals at the top level.
The Canaries were rampant in a 3-1 win over Newcastle United at Carrow Road, but were bitterly unlucky to lose to Chelsea despite scoring twice.
Finnish striker Teemu Pukki has already scored five times this season, and his form and fitness will no doubt directly correlate with Norwich’s success this season.
If his goals can continue to earn his side victories over fellow relegation rivals such as Newcastle, Norwich will have every chance of remaining in the division.
Newcastle themselves started the season poorly under Bruce, and after their woeful display at Norwich they looked to be favourites for the drop.
They responded in terrific fashion though, with well-earned 1-0 away win at Tottenham, followed by a battling draw with Watford.
It not only put the Magpie’s first points on the board, but it showed the players were willing to buy into Bruce’s system and ideas.
The former Sunderland manager may not be the long-term solution for Newcastle United, but his experience in keeping sides in the Premier League will be vital to their survival.
If record-signing Joelinton can consistently play like he did against Spurs, the St. James’ Park club will certainly have the firepower to survive this season.
Of the three promoted teams, Aston Villa’s supporters will perhaps be the most concerned.
Villa were defensively terrific for 70 minutes of their opening day game against Tottenham, but three late goals meant they left North London with nothing.
Dean Smith’s side have also lost to Bournemouth and Crystal Palace in their opening four games, despite positive performances – the latter defeat coming amid VAR controversy that could’ve seen Villa earn a point.
A well-deserved 2-0 win over Everton means Villa have some reward for their good displays, but like any team in a relegation scrap, they will need to see out games more efficiently – as well as some luck.
Their heavy summer recruitment means they have a much deeper squad than some of their rivals, and this may not come into play until the latter stages of the season.
South coast sides Brighton and Southampton were both expected to struggle this season too, but their players seem to have bought into their respective managers’ systems.
Graham Potter’s insistence to play two strikers at Brighton looked effective against Watford on the opening day, and will cause problems for teams in the bottom half.
Ralph Hassenhuttl has had a summer to mould his Southampton side into his own, and his energetic high-pressing style caused Liverpool problems before they fought back to draw against Manchester United with 10 men
If his side continues to pick up points against the big teams, the Austrian will be able to steer the club clear of the relegation zone.
With the newly promoted sides playing such confident football, and last season’s struggler’s improving, this seasons relegation battle will include more teams than ever.
With mid-table teams like Watford and Bournemouth likely to be dragged into the dogfight, this season may be one of the most entertaining yet – at both ends of the table.
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- Why Christian Eriksen leaving wouldn’t be Spurs’ biggest issue this season - August 19, 2019